Residents of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District agree their school buildings need to be renovated, improved or updated. But the CH-UH community is divided about how to go about accomplishing that goal.
On Monday night, about 60 people attended a special meeting at that was called by the CH-UH School Board to hear comments from parents and residents about a controversial facilities master plan, otherwise known as Plan C, a $206.2 million project that will reconfigure school buildings and close three elementary schools. All board members were present.
At , the school board approved Plan C and to put a bond issue on the November ballot by a narrow 3-2 vote. School Board president Karen Jones, vice president Eric Coble and member Nancy Peppler voted yes, while members Ron Register and Kal Zucker .
The board is expected to take a final vote at its meeting tonight to place a $130.6 million, 36-year bond issue on the fall ballot that will partially finance the project. The rest of the funds are expected to come from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, savings that would be realized from the district’s new facilities’ configuration, and other sources.
While a few parents supported the Plan C project, there seemed to be more parents who opposed it and a few who were uncertain or concerned about some aspects of the project and its high price tag. Those who opposed Plan C asked board members to put it on hold to consider other options and to gather more input to develop a new plan that would garner more community support for the November 2013 ballot.
About 18 people spoke. Eleven were against the plan, four supported it and three others shared their concerns but didn't say specifically that they'd oppose it.
Some parents said the board has not been transparent enough with its facilities plans and there is a lot of confusion and misconceptions about the project in the community. Others said the project is too costly and would burden fixed income senior citizens with higher property taxes, forcing some out of their homes. Some parents criticized Plan C contending it would not improve the educational environment for students and that closing three elementary schools would lower property values, affecting the entire school district with lower property tax revenue.
Residents also pointed out that if the school board is divided about Plan C, so too will the community, making it difficult for the bond issue to gain voter approval.
“I think the prudent financial choice….is to invest in our schools now,” said Patrick Mullen, who supports Plan C. “I think this is going to be a difficult choice whether we do it this year or next year. But the longer we wait the more repairs will be needed. Eighty years ago, our community invested in schools. Forty years ago, our community invested in schools. It’s our turn. It’s our turn to leave our district better than we found it and to make it more competitive with other communities in Northeast Ohio.”
But John Hubbard called Plan C fundamentally flawed.
“It’s clear that our enrollment is down and our buildings need work, but Plan C, as it’s called, is not the right plan for our community,” Hubbard said. “In fact, it’s not a plan at all. It’s a loosely affiliated collection of ideas and concepts. I urge you to vote against putting the bond on the ballot.”
Hubbard and other parents said they will organize and campaign against Plan C and the bond issue. Hubbard recently posted an online petition asking the board to allow for a year of “authentic community dialog before asking the community for $130 million to fund a $208 million plan.”
University Heights Mayor Susan K. Infeld also expressed doubts about Plan C. In addition to its costs and financing, Infeld is concerned about the impact of the project to close the only elementary school in University Heights, .
“We know that closing an elementary school will have a direct impact on home values,” said Mayor Infeld. “If that happens, it will impact the city of University Heights and it will impact the school district at large.”
Plan C calls for renovating and reconfiguring schools by 2022, and ending with the elementary schools, with the following details:
- Reduce by more than 100,000 square feet while renovating its remaining historic core. New construction space is figured into that amount. The school's stadium, auditorium and pool would all be entirely redone. The school would provide education for 1,680 students.
- Convert the district's three middle schools into intermediate schools for grades four through eight. Portions of and will be removed, and the remainder of the buildings would be fully renovated. would be completely renovated. Each school would carry an enrollment of 700 students.
- , and elementary schools into pre-kindergarten-to-third-grade structures for 495 students apiece. and entirely reconstruct it, and house the same primary grade levels. Renovate the existing space in Canterbury, Oxford and Roxboro.
- , and elementary schools.